22nd January 2012 - Etherow Country Park

Consistency Incarnate

Etherow Country Park is a tucked away jewel in the Greater Manchester/Cheshire district (these divisions seem so vague nowadays) that never fails to keep ones interest at an optimum level.  This is the location where I did my very first public walk, albeit by default, after the planned leader didn't show up and a kind (or is that vindictive) warden pointed me out and said 'You can lead it'.  That walk was a Fungal Foray and due to the fact I could name about 3 or 4 more species than the next person on the walk (which made up an end total of about 3 or 4 species) I was appointed the one in charge and so left to bumble my way through a mooch that I really can't remember that much about.  Success or failure I know not but from there I was requested to do a couple more the year after which in turn led to a few more the year after with a Moth Night thrown in for good measure.  On these walks several people came from further afield and requested that I do a walk on their local patch for another group of enthusiasts.  These were done, again I was asked back, more people came from outside the chosen area and...well you can guess the rest.  At the moment I get fairly booked up with wildlife walks (primarily Fungal Forays) and have to turn down quite a few due to the fact I am usually so busy or to keep my mental state in balance.  And all this because of that one day at Etherow when I was thrown in at the deep end...sometimes you just have to go with the flow and swim along or...blame a warden or two. 

Today I was on the prowl for more fungi as well as a few birds and whatever else may crop up.  The wind was swift, the skies a dull lead and the old body aching like hell due to the usual stresses and strains of being a nervous noodle.  As per, I have been busy with punk rock, family and work so a walk was much welcome to blow those cerebral spiders to buggery and clear out those cluttering cobwebs.  My wife was with me today whilst the young un' idled at home after a busy evening the night before performing at the Lowry Theatre no less.  Having sat through the performance for 2 hours, in seats I can only deem were built for Oompa Loompas, the old buttocks needed some regular movement today in order to get the blood supply moving and so help carry me around the wonderful woodland of Etherow.  Starting off we headed for the western outer wall that runs alongside the main path leading into the first incline of deciduous woodland where Beech trees dominate and the much productive Silver Birch (Betula pendula) are plentiful.  Along the wall, in later months, is a good show of tumbling Ivy Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), a flower that seems to grow in every nook and cranny you don't want it to but will not take root where requested.  I first introduced this species into my own back yard about 10 years ago and try as I might the devilish dangler will not adopt a wall as a growing medium.  The soil filled containers in my garden though are forever sprouting new plants and no matter how often I trim and pluck, the growth abounds.  A typical wild plant but it does look good in its place.  Other plant life on the wall were the usual fronds of Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), only one small tuft of Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) and numerous vegetative clumps of Shining Cranes-Bill (Geranium lucidum). 

Onwards and into the first patch of choice woodland with a sloping drop down to the river loaded with precarious looking Beech trees (Fagus sp) and the opposite side of the pathway offering a nice mix of Hazel (Corylus avellana), Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and the odd Oak tree (Quercus sp).  The search here, at this time of year, was primarily for stick dwelling species and the odd bracket or two and we came up with a few common specimens but nothing out of the ordinary.  An Oysterling species was located and straight into the collecting pot it went due to these wonderful shell-like growths only being identifiable by a routine microscopic examination in which spores are checked for ornamentation, size and shape and the flesh searched for those often elusive clamp connections (a special connecting structure found on the hyphal cells and primarily created to ensure that each section of hyphae receives a different set of nuclei).  It sounds like a lot of hard work but Crepidotus are one of those species that can be easily pinned down provided a good key is had and, like anything, the jargon is only picked up after a lot of repetition and micro mooching.  By the way, the species keyed out at the most common Crepidotus cesatii - hey ho!    One thing we did notice throughout the days wander is the amount of Jews Ear (Auricularia auricular-judae) and Olive Oysterling (Panellus serotinus) in fruit and wondered what external influences trigger these bountiful supplies within the mycological world. 


Jew's Ear or Jelly Ear, Wood Ear - the PC brigade can't leave anything alone

The mild conditions must surely play a part as does the amount of nutrients available within the host substrate and the levels of moisture but is there something else that we are missing?  The fungal world is still fairly cloaked in mystery and even at the most unlikely times of year some species will just have a burst of life and produce one hell of a show.  One of the most vivid memories of such a bloom comes from the Natural England Ainsdale Reserve where, whilst leading a foray, the group turned a corner and entered a Birch woodland which was absolutely rammed to the rafters with the magical Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).  The silver grey bark, the leaf strewn floor and the array of red and white caps atop pure white stems is a sight burned into the memory banks and one of the many reasons we do what we do.  You can get all the architects in the world working like rabbits, with their arses on fire, but they will struggle to replicate the genuine unaffected beauty Mother Nature offers up time and time again.

Putting a bit of pace in the old boiled eggs (legs) we checked out a nearby farmers field for birdlife and came up with one solitary Redwing (Turdus iliacus).  Strange indeed!  Still to a brisk lower limb tempo and a call off at the recently constructed Sensory Garden where log piles may be inspected, flowers sniffed at (in later months) and textures caressed.  The log piles were pretty sparse today with only a few fungus present, namely Crepidotus variabilis (confirmed later), Ascocoryne sarcoides (also confirmed later) and Byssomerulius corium.  

A crack on and into the pleasing tranquillity of Keg Wood, an undulating walk one never seems to adjust to, one always feels as though a good bit of effort has been put in here no matter what the pace.  This part of Etherow Country Park is perhaps one of my favourite wildlife getaways and is just such a natural woodland thatis always low on the old populace front.  People are at a minimum and that suits me just fine and it is just one of those pure 'switch off' places where one can become mentally lost.  With a variety of trees present, a nearby meandering river, a tucked away pool and several open grassy areas the place has massive potential and only with time, patience and numerous revisits can this be truly tapped. 

Two fungi today were particularly pleasing to find and although not uncommon I find each one to have its own inner delights and general aesthetic facets.  Scarlet Elf Cup (Sarcoscypha austriaca) is as it says on the tin - scarlet and seemingly like a cup made for elves.  It is a deliciously beautiful species and often found growing quite gregariously on olds branches and twigs.  The species seems to be quite narcissistic and sets itself off, more often than not in my experience, by growing in quite mossy areas therefore creating a most eye-catching contrast between the inside blood red flesh of the inner cup and the delicate lush green foliage of the said moss.  A most startling effect and when found in profusion the similarity between the green baize of a snooker table and several unpotted one pointers is right on the mark.  Be warned however, that your pleasure may be short lived if you want to put a name to this pretty fungus.  There are indeed three species (at least) in Britain, one which is very scarce, one which is frequent and one which is becoming more common by the year it seems.  The answer lies down the barrel of a microscope and spore shape and epicular hairs will lead one to a swift answer.  A later scanning revealed the usual flask shaped structures (asci) with 8 spores (ascospores) in each and several free floating ones.  As per the free floaters were checked (these being the mature ones) and the flattened ends gave hint at S. austriaca (as named) and the coiled excipular hairs confirmed the ID.  The most common of the 3 but always worth checking.

The other fungus I have found here on several occasion and very few other places is the sweetly named Jelly Leaf Fungus (Tremella foliocea).  In all honesty it isn't something to write home about (particularly so when my parents have an aversion to fungi) but there is just something that really shivers me timbers and brings a smile to my searching face.  The first place I ever saw and identified this species was right here at Etherow so maybe a fondness of memory is what is playing a part here but when I do seldom find this elsewhere I find myself equally pleased.  Just one of those...

On to Keg Pool and the hope of some Goosander was high but today we were met by a couple of Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), several busy Coot (Fulica atra) and a small flock of Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula).  Taking a clockwise route it was on the second corner that a pile of logs was examined whereupon another of my fungal faves was encountered, none other than the majestic Winter Polypore (Polyporus brumalis).  Once again the ones who christened this species have revealed limited imagination through no choice of their own has this fungus does grow in Winter and is polyporus (has many pores).  I can't argue can I!  With a sturdy look and a greyish colour to the upper side of the cap the true beauty appears when one looks underneath at the perfectly constructed porous underside.  Something quite pure about this fertile surface.


The Winter Polypore - don't you just love that underside

Time tickled on (as it usually does at this absorbing area) and a quick march was had with brief breaks taken to admire the years first glossy yellow bloom of Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and to examine yet another log pile whereupon the first Crepidotus species of the day (Crepidotus variabilis) was had (and yes once more confirmed at home) and several molluscs were mused over.  Dusky Slug (Arion subfuscus) is a pretty chap with his rich orange-brown body, black longitudinal stripes and somewhat mosiac texture to the body - an overlooked pip.  The Garden Snail (Hedera helix) is a common species but not so in woodland areas and Garlic Snail (Oxychilus alliarius) is one to fish out on many a walk and pass around the punters hooters so they can partake of, yes you guessed it, that strong Garlic aroma.

The cold factor was building so up to the sheltered seat at Sunny Corner for a cup of coffee and an observation of the feeding area.  Incredibly Coal Tit (Periparus ater) was the main player today with several birds flitting back and forth with energy second to none.  A lovely bird...!  Talking of lovely birds...enter the Nuthatch (Sitta europea).  If one was ever going to decorate ones abode in the colours of a bird I reckon you couldn't go far wrong by adopting the plumage of this superb bird.   With soft pastel orange-buff underparts, wonderfully contrasting slate blue-grey back and perfectly positioned black eyestripe the whole mix is sublime.

A time check, we were running late so haste was had and with the undulations we flowed, chatting freely but in the main just enjoying the impressive ambience.   Even though the minutes were against us a quick tootle was essential on a favoured spot where Beech abound, Silver Birch borders and Sycamore (Acer sp) gently sneaks in.  A few small black growths were spotted on a stick and so the woody substrate was taken for closer inspection over a cup of cha' later in the day.  A bit of Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) was found too and in remarkably fresh condition but, sadly, nowt else.  Out of the woodland and a brief count of the ever-present wintering Mandarin (Aix galericulata), flock came up with a nice, round 50 which shows that these amazing blighters are on the increase and we are all the better for it.  I remember seeing my first pair at Etherow, high up in a tree with a female hell-bent on settling into a hole that was obviously too small.  Looks like an appropriate nesting site was found and a good degree of success had!

Back to the car park and another fungal specimen was taken, this time off a moss covered Elder (Sambucus sp) branch that was attached to the parent tree but seemed long dead.  A dull buff bracket with a porous underside - not much to go on and little hope of a name I felt - but a back up plan was afoot.

The car park was fairly busy with most of the visitors feeding ducks, walking around the main lake or hanging about in the cafe area.  They just don't know what they are missing out on but it was definitely a case of their ignorance is my bliss.

And home we arrived and out the Fungal books came, the Internet scanned, the microscope used and duly abused...and no names came forth.  The back up plan was now a necessity and being a member of the ABFG meant that the ID skills of the head bod (one Mr Michael Jordan) were at my disposal and so several specimens were packed up in old toilet roll tubes and placed in a letter to be sent on the morn.   Then it was a case of the waiting game...

and still waiting...

and still...

and then...The black growths on the suspected Sycamore branch were Glonium lineare and the dull looking bracket on Elder was Trametes pubescens.  The first one I had no idea of, the second – I hang my head in shame!

What can I say, a great day out, 2 all time new species and much learnt, absorbed and remembered – better than stopping in watching the idiot box!